Beethoven - Complete Edition 2017

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It would not be an overstatement to declare that Ludwig van Beethoven stands as one of the most significant figures in Western civilisation: a composer...

It would not be an overstatement to declare that Ludwig van Beethoven stands as one of the most significant figures in Western civilisation: a composer who shaped the course of music history through his mastery of rhythm, melody and harmonic exploration, pushing the boundaries of form and effectively bridging the gap between Classicism and Romanticism – and yet all the while continuously professing how difficult he found composition. Detailing his complete output – from his earliest years to his last, by which time he had almost completely lost his hearing – this 85CD box reveals an extensive palette of styles and mediums, rendered all the more obvious by the box's division into different genres (starting with the symphonies and ending with the large corpus of different national folk songs).

This box is the 2017 reissue of Brilliant Classics’ acclaimed Beethoven Complete Edition, with updates including Beethovenian pianist par excellence Alfred Brendel now in the complete cycle of Piano Concertos, Alessandro Commellato on historic fortepianos in brand new recordings of the 18 sets of ‘without opus’ piano variations, Emmy Verhey in the Violin Concerto and Romances and a definitive Mass in C from Stuttgart’s Gachinger Kantorei and Bach-Collegium.


I found the music for wind ensemble to be one of the highlights of the box. The Ottetto Italiano are in excellent form and I must admit to have listened to the two discs featuring them (15 and 16) over and over again. Theirs is an exuberant performance, one that fills the music with life and a sense of enjoyment.

Jean-Pierre Rampal features in the following two discs featuring all the works for flute, not only those with and without opus numbers, but in the case of the Trio in G for three flutes, those which are highly doubtful. The performances are typical Rampal and although no recording details are given, I have a feeling that these to are from the Vox stable.

The Horn Sonata fares well with Farenc Tarjáni’s original Hungaroton recording being a real winner. Whilst the disc of piano quartets is another old friend, it presents the Cummings Trio and Anthony Goldstone in the wonderful recording they made for Meridian. </span>The piano trios take up discs 23 to 27, and whilst Trio Elégiaque are new to me, I was more than impressed by their performance. Included are all the arrangements for piano trio including those of the Symphony No. 2, the String Quintet Op. 4 and the Septet, here performed in a traditional piano trio format, which is good as it differs from my other version by the Guarneri Trio where the violin is replaced by a clarinet (PRD 350011). The performance of the Trio Elégiaque is first rate and highly enjoyable and is recommendable in its own right.

Of the string sonatas, I find that Timora Rosler and Klára Würtz are a well balanced and enthusiastic pairing in the works for cello and piano. Their performance, whilst it does not challenge my favourites, is enjoyable and would be a good introduction to the music. The string trios take up discs 34 and 35, and whilst the performance of The Zurich String Trio might not be the most exciting theirs is a very pleasing listen to indeed. Theirs is a performance of great subtlety and depth, one that places the emphasis on the music rather than the performers, old style Beethoven then, but enjoyable never the less.

The Suske Quartett were completely new to me and these recordings, the majority made for Berlin Classics between 1975 and 1980 are a real eye opener, even the Rasumovsky Quartets which were recorded in 1967 and 1968 have a presence that marks them out as another of the highlights in this box. Their performance reminds me of that of the Medici String Quartet on Nimbus (NI 1785), but unlike the Medici’s, the Suske ramp up the tension and the drama in the late quartets making theirs a more desirable set, I just don’t know how this has passed me by. The recorded sound is very good, even in the Rasumovsky’s, it is solid 1970’s but less reverberant than the Medici’s from the late 1980’s. this is a recording that I would be happy to recommend as a standalone set. The lesser quartet works are also well served, as are the string quintets. In the case of the quintets the The Zurich String Trio are joined by what seem to be regular colleagues as the Zurich String Quintet; they give an equally compelling performance here as the Trio did.

Again for the piano sonatas Brilliant turn to Alfred Brendel’s early Vox recordings, a series of LP’s I grew to enjoy when I started buying records in the 1970’s. Yes, this set may lack the enlightenment of Brendel’s later Beethoven recordings, and if we are to believe the rumours, Brendel himself tried to suppress these recordings, but they still have a lot to offer. Take the Hammerklavier for instance, one of my favourite of all the sonatas and the one presented first here, I have always rated this recording, and this despite my move towards fortepiano versions, it is a wonderful rendition, one that portrays the vibrancy of youth. It is coupled with the final sonata on this disc and this is given an equally compelling performance. Indeed, Brendel excels here in the later sonatas, and after listening to all 32, I still believe that the merits of this set warrants its inclusion in this set. The same can be said of his recording of the Opp. 34, 35, 76 and 120 variations, especially the Diabelli, and of the bagatelles.

What lies between the sonatas and the Diabelli however, might come as a bit of a surprise, as the three discs (CDs 54-56) present the sets of variations without opus numbers performed on a fortepiano. Alessandro Commellato has recorded these lesser known sets of variations seemingly especially for inclusion in this complete edition, and he has done it well. They are scheduled to be released separately in early 2018, and I would recommend picking up a copy if you don’t fancy the complete edition. I enjoy his tone and that of all the instruments employed here, a variety of instruments dating from between 1788 and 1823 are used, and whilst some might find the sound of these early instruments jarring, especially against the modern piano of Brendel, the sound is more than pleasing as are the performances. The smaller piano works, including the pieces with no opus number and those for piano four hands fare well too, here we return to modern instruments again and which are given performances that are more than pleasing.

Three of the four discs of songs presented here are old friends, indeed they have pride of place on the shelf, I have always enjoyed the performance of Peter Schreier and Walter Olbertz as they have a real sense of recital, and this despite their age, they were recorded between 1968 and 1970. These Berlin Classics recordings have been the go to recordings of the songs for me for a long time now, and I imagine they will remain that way too. The third of the four discs of lieder presents the baritone Florian Prey, the son of the esteemed Beethovian Hermann Prey, and the mezzo Anna Haase with Norbert Groh in the remaining songs, their performance compliments that of Schreier well.

The final six discs of the set present the folk song arrangements and are well known to me through their original release (94925). There are many settings of British folk songs, which fed the German hunger during the period for anything Celtic. They are not the most in demand music that Beethoven ever composed, but they have a certain charm that will bring delight to all but the most hardened of listeners. The performances are excellent throughout with all singers bringing the joy in these songs to the fore.

The presentation of this set is standard for all large Brilliant Classics’ large sets, individual discs in cardboard sleeves printed with the track information placed in a flip top box.

On the whole this is a very worthwhile set, which as I said at the beginning, is more than just a way of picking up those unusual works that are new to you and probably most other people too. The Edition contains some wonderful performances.

-- MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Release Date: November 17, 2017

  • UPC: 5028421955100

  • Catalog Number: BRI95510

  • Label: Brilliant Classics

  • Number of Discs: 85

  • Period: Classical

  • Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Berliner Symphoniker